Friday, December 6, 2013

Average FIFA Rankings of each World Cup Group

Which group is the dreaded Group of Death? Granted that FIFA ranking aren't always the most reliable source for ranking countries, but here are the average rankings of each World Cup group:

Group A - 24.25
Group B - 21
Group C - 20.25
Group D - 14.25
Group E - 22.75
Group F - 26.25
Group G - 11.25
Group H - 28.25

And the winner is... Group G, edging out Group D before the rest of the groups come in well behind. Stay tuned for more on why the USA got one of the worst draws possible in a follow-up post I'm going to start writing as soon as this is posted.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

My Entry for Men In Blazers FIFA 15 Cover Contest

Here it is in all its glory:

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

My thoughts on Deuce to MLS Part 3: the part that scares me

If Grant Wahl's article is to be believed, the biggest issue with Dempsey's transfer in my opinion is the fact that MLS paid for the transfer fee. $9 million dollars was fronted by MLS in order to secure Dempsey's rights, which, in and of itself, is fine, he's easily worth that much to the league. The problem is that you cannot spread Clint Dempsey equally among 19 MLS teams. He only plays for the Sounders. MLS claims to promote competitive balance. There is a salary cap which restricts teams from simply overspending on the whole squad to become better (the designated player rule allows for wiggle room on top end talent, but you already knew that). Then there is the draft system, which rewards teams at the bottom of the table by giving them access to the best talent available from the NCAA.

Uncle Don seems mighty pleased with his little transfer coup

The problem is that the MLS just blew it up to make this deal work, and it reeks of partisan decision making. The MLS salary cap is $2.95 million per season. So MLS just gave the Sounders a full 3 seasons worth of value, in terms of real money spent, in the gift that was paying for Dempsey's transfer fee. In a league that preaches parity, that is a load of crap. I get that Deuce is an exceptional case for many reasons, as detailed in part 1, and that his acquisition, when taken from a big picture view, is nothing but a boon for the league, but bending rules and offering monetary gifts to individual teams to make it happen is not justifiable. If MLS wants to be among the top leagues in the world by 2022 they are going to have to cut out this sort of crap. If you have standards of parity, allocation, and fiscal responsibility, then adhere to them. If you want to play favorites because its in the best interests of the league then come out and say so, but don't claim to be a champion of certain causes if you drop your moral high ground at the first opportunity. The product on the field is no doubt better for the acquisiton of the Deuce, but MLS turned off a lot of fans and had to drag its reputation through the mud to get it done. Perhaps the ends justify the means, but my opinion is that a more transparent methodology and a little more accountability is in order than was shown here.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

My thoughts on Deuce to MLS Part 2: The part where MLS is making this up as it goes

There are two main concerns that have come to the forefront for me through the signing of Clint Dempsey. The first is regarding the allocation process. Previously, if a USMNT player came back to MLS, he was subject to a very strict allocation process. There is a set allocation order, the team at the top of the list has the right of first refusal. If they claim the player then he is obligated to play for them. If they refuse, the next team in line can claim him. Claiming a player moves you to the bottom of the list. If the incoming player has a specific team in mind that he wants to play for, that team had better be near the top of the list or needs to make a trade with a team above them to move up in the allocation order. This happened as recently as July 1, when (former) USMNT captain Carlos Bocanegra came back to MLS. Chivas USA wanted him, but were 15th in the pecking order, so they had to make a trade with Toronto FC, who was at the top of the list. For their troubles, TFC got the Goats' 2015 first round draft pick and an international slot through 2014, and Chivas got their man. That's a pretty steep price for a 34-year-old player who is in the twilight of his career. Having the top spot in the allocation order is a very important bargaining chip.

Deuce in the WCQ vs. Honduras

So when news of Deuce possibly coming stateside broke, everyone went to the allocation order and saw Portland Timbers at the top of the order, with Sounders second. If Sounders wanted their man, the Timbers, their bitter rival, was going to have to be very well compensated in order to give up their right of first refusal. Only it didn't happen that way. Dempsey was unveiled as a Sounder without any whisper of a trade. Why? Because the MLS sidestepped their own allocation process to push this through. How did this happen? They created a loophole by saying that since he was a designated player, and therefore wasn't subject to the allocation process. Here is the direct quote from MLS:

"For new players signed by an MLS club as a Designated Player, the allocation process does not apply. Examples of this include previous high profile player signings like David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane and US national team player Claudio Reyna when he signed with New York."

That's all well and good, except for that it's a pile of crap that MLS threw together to justify the move in retrospect. This "policy" was not outlined in the past, and in fact there is more recent precedent for just the opposite. Freddy Adu's return to MLS was governed by the allocation process. He was not a "designated player" in the season he came back because he was only there half a season, but he was easily making D.P. money and was a D.P. starting at the beginning of the next season. Another example is the case of Mix Diskerud earlier this year, for whom it was assumed Portland would be using their allocation spot to acquire earlier this year despite the fact that he would have been signed as a D.P.

I understand why MLS did it. This is a big time move with lots of implications for the league as outlined in my reaction yesterday. If the Timbers played hardball with Seattle to either extract more from them for swapping spots in the allocation order, it could have bogged down or delayed the transfer. With a move like this lined up, time was of the essence, and any delays could see a very important opportunity for MLS disappear into thin air. But the ends don't always justify the means, and bending or reinterpreting rules for convenience, especially when it puts one of the biggest signings in league history into the hands of one of the bigger teams (and let's face it, favoritism has been a large criticism of MLS in the past) is unjustified in my opinion.

I also understand that top players are going to want a say in where they want to go. That, in and of itself, is no problem at all. What is a problem is when the league has an established set of rules that they decide to bend or break whenever it is convenient for them to do so. It leaves teams like Portland, who have long maneuvered to get that top allocation spot, in the lurch, as their previously valuable asset is now devalued. The buzz word that has been thrown around a lot this week is transparency, and it is in fact needed. Fans spend time and money to follow MLS and there ought to be a gentlemen's agreement that the rules of the league they hold deal should be clear.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

My thoughts on Deuce to MLS Part 1: The part where I am absolutely stoked

The last week has been an absolute whirlwind of soccer news, between Don Garber announcing that MLS is expanding to 4 teams, the Cosmos playing their first competitive game, European transfer rumors, and Landon Donovan's renaissance, but one storyline completely dominated them all on the domestic soccer front. Clint Dempsey is coming back to MLS as a Seattle Sounder. As I've taken time to digest this information, read Grant Wahl's excellent reporting, and other blogs, I've had a couple thoughts that I'd like to put down. I'm breaking it into three parts, and the first part is from the MLS fanboy inside of me:

Are you freaking kidding me!? Deuce is coming back to MLS while still in his prime. US fans get to see him at his peak in competitive league games at least 34 times every season. The (arguably) best player in stars and stripes, and the USMNT captain is taking his talents stateside. We have new fodder for the Donovan vs. Dempsey debate. And the best part of all? More of this...

Dempsey is a boon for MLS. He is a player with attitude, swagger, skill, a permanent chip on his shoulder the size of Texas, and he's as 'Murikan as you can get. Fans love him and identify with him. He's a workaholic who is never satisfied and always is pushing to up his game to the next level. MLS will undoubtedly be a better league because of his presence. When I texted my brother about the move his response was "Looks like I'm going to be driving to Seattle". He lives in Boise, Idaho and I have a hard time getting him to come to RSL games. Dempsey is well worth a $9 million transfer fee and ~$30 in salary.

He will be a boon to the league and its players in other ways as well. The MLS TV deal is soon coming to a close. If the league can get a viewership boost by his presence, it gives them more leverage when they negotiate a new contract. Additionaly, the MLS collective bargaining agreement expires in 2015 per wikipedia and Deuce's arrival, including the transfer fee and salary, should give the players more clout in their discussions, increasing the chance of a greater increase to the salary cap. This doesn't affect top end talent, but higher median salaries mean that the overall quality of the league improves, which can only be a good thing (as long as spending doesn't balloon to old school NASL levels, but I don't see that happening). From both a fan and player perspective, Clint Dempsey to the Sounders is a very good thing. From an MLS revenue standpoint, both in ticket sales and TV ratings, Clint is well worth the investment. But, unfortunately, the story doesn't stop there, parts 2 and 3 are still to come...

Friday, September 2, 2011

My Starting XI for Costa Rica

If Klinsmann sticks to the 4-5-1 formation he used against Mexico, which I believe he does, and looking at his roster selections, and given who is available and unavailable for the game (Beckerman, Dolo, Dempsey), this is what I would expect to see as the starting lineup:

There are two big question marks for me The first is at CB next to Bocanegra and the other is the right wing. Bocanegra is going to be the incumbent starting center left back for the foreseeable future, as indicated by Klinsmann's comments (full article here):

"I don't like to move people around," he said. "I don't like to see a Bocanegra be a 50 percent left back. I want Bocanegra to be a left center back because that's where he's 100 percent. As a left back, he might be 90 percent, but I'm losing 10 percent. Can we afford that on the international level? No. What we need is a 100 percent solution as a left back sooner or later."

Goodson is solid, and seems to be a good choice, but he lacks the technical ability to link the play, as does Bocanegra. I don't think both of them will start especially in a game against Costa Rica. That leaves Ream and Orozco, and I think that Orozco gets the nod.

Right wing is a bit trickier. Nobody who was called up for this game is a natural right winger. Donovan has occupied that spot on the USMNT for a while now, but Klinsmann's comments about using him as a second striker (see the same article above), seem to indicate that he will play in the hole. Shea earned a start at left wing and has been unconscious for FC Dallas (did you see his 2 crosses in 5 minutes to lead Dallas to a 3-2 victory last week? They were amazing). That leaves Torres, Edu, Kljestan, Larentowicz, and Pontius left to fill the right wing. Pontius plays on the left when he does play wing, Kljestan is an attacking mid and doesn't have the pace for the wing, Edu and Larentowicz are defensive midfielders, and Torres, as we saw against Mexico, isn't very comfortable from the wing. That leaves Rogers, who played great from the right wing against Mexico, but I have always envisioned his pace being more valuable off the bench once the other team starts to slow down.

The LB remains a problem spot, but I think Castillo gets the nod with Spector as a possible second half sub. Give him one more chance to shine to not ruin his confidence. I think Torres and Edu team in the defensive midfielder spots, with Edu playing the destroyer role and Torres the deep-lying playmaker, his preferred position on the field anyway.

Up top Altidore gets the nod because of his form for his club. There are 4 forwards on the squad (including Donovan), so I would expect to see Agudelo or Bunbury come on in the 60-70th minute to mix things up. I can't wait for tonight and next Tuesday to see how the USMNT progress continues.

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